Entrepreneur Romona Stephenson has found it possible, through hard work and dedicated focus, to find ways of serving her community in the field of pharmacy, while delighting a broader constituency with her craft skills.
Her twin obsessions, customer service and functional art, have resulted in two lines of business which promise to be viable even beyond the startup stage.
In October of this year, Stephenson, who is a pharmacist, was finally able to realise her dream when she opened the Good Life Pharmacy in Hopewell, Hanover. But, five years ago in 2016, her passion for functional and decorative art led her to start IllumiScents Candles while working as a pharmacy intern.
Stephenson told the Jamaica Observer, “I needed a creative outlet and started making candles as a hobby. It became a business a few months later and friends and family started to become more interested in the product.”
Before this she “dabbled briefly” in designing and making jewellery and keychains with polymer clay as the base material. However, she eventually decided to focus on candles after receiving a better response from the market.
But Romona Stephenson's first enduring venture into business was IllumiScents Candles in June 2016, which she continues to operate from home in Montego Bay, St James.
IllumiScents Candles retails home scenting products including scented candles made from soy wax and air freshener mists. Orders may be personalised for gift giving or special occasions such as weddings.
IllumiScents Candles – 4 oz – for travel in tins has proven to be the most popular product as it is in a convenient size to use as a gift for loved ones overseas or for wedding favours and corporate gifting, Stephenson shared. The line of candles is now available in all Fontana stores islandwide. On Instagram the product's handle is @illumiscent_candles, and the website is illumiscentscandles.com, Facebook.
Her venture into opening her own pharmacy came after three years spent working in a hospital pharmacy with little interaction with patients.
Stephenson said, “I wanted to take a more hands-on and direct approach to patient care in terms of medication counselling and advice.” The Good Life Pharmacy was the answer.
Opened in October, the store employs only two – Stephenson as pharmacist and a cashier. But there are no limits on services provided, as the Good Life Pharmacy makes available to residents in Hopewell, Hanover and surrounding communities, pharmaceutical and health-care-related items; vitamin and supplements, over the counter and prescription medication.
It also offers blood glucose and blood pressure testing. Services to be offered soon include rapid tests for cholesterol, STDs/STI and drug panel.
The pharmacist said her goal is to “Provide a warm and friendly environment where patients feel safe and comfortable. The focus is always on ensuring that each patient has the best possible outcome from medications prescribed or OTC [over the counter] suggestions made.”
A special product line is Good Life Rx which comprises immune boosting vitamins and supplements such as vitamin C, zinc, elderberry.
Stephenson states that patients are still concerned about maintaining a healthy immune system to protect themselves from COVID.
In reflecting on the challenges experienced in setting up and running a business, she said that for IllumiScents, this was sourcing raw materials such as wax, fragrance oils, containers, which have to be imported as they are not manufactured in Jamaica.
She is faced with rising shipping costs plus the sliding US-JMD exchange rate, which she comments, “ further worsens the issue.” Such challenges have been alleviated by buying in bulk where possible.
For her new venture, the Good Life Pharmacy, challenges faced include the rising cost of drugs, which can also be attributed to the depreciation of the Jamaican dollar.
As to the impact of COVID, she notes that for IllumiScents Candles, sales increased slightly in the beginning as people were spending more time at home and wanted to make the environment as comfortable and relaxing as possible. For the Good Life Pharmacy, no effect has been observed so far as operations commenced in October.